I first heard about Miracle Berries during a recent visit to Questacon (Australia’s National Science and Technology Centre). Luckily our visit coincided with one of their live shows, Tasty Science, and we were first in line! (Which, given our obsession with edible science, is not surprising really…)
When they asked for volunteers, my hand shot up! And so this was how I was given the opportunity to try a West African berry called synsepalum dulcificum, (more commonly known as miracle fruit or miracle berries), that was totally able to fool my taste buds.
Because the miracle fruit doesn’t travel very well, they’ve been dried and turned into a tablet form. Before we left Questacon, we bought a few miracle berry tablets from their museum store, so we could try this again at home. That way, Jewel and Bumble could try deceiving their taste buds too!
- a combination of sweet and sour fruits (orange, lime, lemon, kiwi)
- various vinegars (apple cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar, white wine vinegar)
- cranberry juice
- ‘Miracle Berry’ tablets, halved
- paper and pen to record our finding
First we tasted the fruits, juices and vinegars and recorded our thoughts.
I then halved the Miracle Berry tablets (as they’d halved them at the Questacon Taste Science show, and also as we’d only bought two tablets between four of us.) We sucked on the half tablets for about 10 minutes. They really don’t have a flavour, and don’t really dissolve. At the end of 10 minutes, we chewed up what was left and swallowed.
Then, next comes the fun part. We re-tasted each of items, to see how they’d changed! Some were better, some were (slightly) worse, some were delicious. All were unexpected!
The thing is, that you taste with more than just your tastebuds. The fruit, vinegars and juice still looked the same, still had the same textures, still smelt the same. We knew, from memory, what they were ‘supposed’ to taste like, but the messages from our taste buds were different. It’s very confusing and fun to for our brains to try to comprehend!
We recorded our thoughts, and discussed the differences. I won’t tell you which ones were the best – you’ll have to find that out for yourself. 🙂
Our tastebuds can detect five basic tastes: sweetness, sourness, saltiness, bitterness and umami (which is a kind of brothy or meaty taste.) Apparently there is evidence of a possible sixth taste – fattiness – but scientists are still figuring that one out.
Our tastebuds are only one of the ways that our brain interprets the flavour of food. It also factors in how a food smells, how it looks, what temperature it is served at, the texture and our previous experiences. Our brains are easily confused if you change just one of these factors!
Synsepalum dulcificum (miracle berries) contain miraculin, which is a molecule that binds to taste buds. In the presence of acidic (sour or bitter) foods, it activates the sweet receptors, resulting in the perception of sweet taste.
As I mentioned above, we bought our Miracle Berries from the Questacon shop. They weren’t expensive – from memory they were about $2.50 each? They’re the same as these ones, although it looks like the smallest quantity they sell online is a box of 10.
Otherwise, if you search on Amazon for Miracle Berry (affiliate link), there are loads of different brands, although I can’t personally vouch for any of these. To make it extra complicated, several different fruits go by the terms Miracle Fruit and Miracle Berry, so you might want to double check before you buy.